Affordable hands-free calling

We check out the pros and cons of add-on Bluetooth kits

Consumer Reports magazine: May 2013

If you have to make a phone call from behind the wheel, go hands-free. It’s not only less distracting than trying to juggle a phone while steering but it’s also the only legal way to do it in many states. Most new car models offer Bluetooth technology, which frees your hands by wirelessly connecting your phone to the car’s audio system. But if your vehicle doesn’t have it, you can still take advantage of the technology without spending a lot of money.

We recently bought four Bluetooth kits from Belkin, GoGroove, Jabra, and Motorola, which ran about $35 to $60. Many others are also available. Each can be paired with a cell phone or portable music player so that you can carry on hands-free phone conversations and listen to music. They’re powered by plugging into a 12-volt socket or USB port. But their different designs affect how easy they are to use.

The Jabra and Motorola simply clip onto the sun visor, which makes them simple to install and places the microphone close to your face, right where you want it. Because they have rechargeable batteries, they can even be used unplugged. And both have an internal speaker, so they can be used in any car. The Motorola can also send sound through the car’s audio system via FM modulation (transmitting the signal to an unused FM frequency).

Bluetooth kits let you keep both hands on the wheel during calls.

The Belkin and GoGroove can be used only when connected to a car’s audio system. Our Belkin plugs into an auxiliary jack, although an FM version is also available. The GoGroove links through an AUX jack or FM modulator. We’ve found using an AUX jack provides the best sound.

The Belkin can be mounted on any flat surface with a small adhesive disc. That gives you flexibility in its placement but can make it hard to move it between cars.

The GoGroove has a 5.5-inch gooseneck that plugs directly into a car’s 12-volt socket. But that design moves the microphone farther from the driver, which can affect sound quality. And the gooseneck makes it hard to tuck out of the way.

Before you buy, make sure your phone is compatible with the device. Prices vary, so shop around. And remember, hands-free or not, the safest way to make a call is when the car is parked.

Kits for wirelessly connecting to your phone or music player

Product Cost Feature
Belkin CarAudio
Connect AUX
$36 Connects with car’s audio system through an auxiliary jack. But
adhesive-backed mount can be hard to remove.
$37 Connects to car’s audio system via AUX jack or FM modulator. But
gooseneck mount can vibrate; hard to tuck out of the way.
Jabra Journey $40 Clips to visor; rechargeable battery. But can’t connect to car’s
audio system.
Roadster 2
$59 Clips to visor; rechargeable battery; connects to car’s audio system through FM modulator.

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